Ginny's face blanched, her stomach knotted into a tight fist. The social worker standing in front of her said very few words. The look on her face however, spoke volumes.
Ginny, through an ingrained default process, interpreted that unspoken language. Unfortunately, her abilities to accurately assess were somewhat out of kilter. She immediately turned it against herself and came up beaten by both the short end and the long one. She cringed with shame as she mentally tallied the litany of mistakes she had made; as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, as a sister, as an aunt….the list was endless and left Ginny feeling helpless and hopeless. The words the worker used were carefully chosen and delivered with a simple clarity that appeared benign. They were anything but. Her directions spelled out the plan for a destruction Ginny feared. She had seen it coming for a long time and done her best to delay the inevitable.
Her marriage to Rocky had been one of mixed blessings. It had begun in a fairytale mist coloured by the blindness of a passionate romance. It looked like love and in truth held some relationship to that ideal. It didn't take much pressure to realize that the love between the two was more than a little warped.
Ginny and Rocky met when they were in their mid twenties. They had very similar family dynamics and each experienced enough of life to know that ‘settling down’ was becoming an appealing prospect. They appeared to hold identical morals and values, despite some major discrepancies. It was these flaws which eventually chipped and permanently cracked the foundation of their marriage. They had both been raised in fairly strict Catholic homes and the expectations from both sets of parents were that any intimacy to be enjoyed by the two, was to be within the boundaries of a legal marriage, preferably one with strong religious orientations.
The young couple more or less accepted these expectations and after some hesitations on Rocky’s part, were married in a whirlwind of excitement.
Ginny was ecstatic at the prospect of having a home, a husband and greatly anticipated children. She chose to blind herself to the many glaring weak places that plagued their early marriage. They had been married several years when the event she’d been carefully attempting to orchestrate, finally occurred. They had their first child at the age of thirty-one and over the next five years produced two more. All seemed well and from the outside looking in, the image appeared enviable. Those closest to them knew that not all was as it seemed and secretly wondered how long the marriage would last before a final explosion.
The detonation occurred eighteen years in. The oldest child was almost fourteen, the next two, eleven and nine. They each learned to navigate the choppy seas of a family life that to them seemed normal. The reality was a much different story. The secrets of their family were deep and though they were somewhat ignorant of details, each child held scars from witnessing and being forced to participate in various and sundry battles over the years. They retreated into their own worlds, learning somehow to not quite trust the two adults to whom they were beholden.
Life became an eggshell dance, riddled with drugs, infidelity and the angst of never knowing when their father’s temper would erupt into an act of violence. Their mother proved to be something of an enigma. As the years wore on she became more and more desperate to hold onto what seemed her only means of security. In the process, she turned a blind eye to that which should never have been tolerated. Her decision to ignore behaviours that became increasingly more destructive held severe consequences. She gained a large amount of weight, dropped deeper and deeper into a dark abyss of depression and in many ways, inflicted abuse on her children that would take years to repair.
The final years of their lives together became excruciating. Ginny slept most of the time, rising only to prepare food, do household chores, spend some time with her children and do her best to maintain the image of a happy family. What lay beneath this facade was dark and murky and dank with the fetid odor of decay. Somehow, they each survived…in a manner of speaking.
The final explosion occurred with a somewhat familiar act of physical violence. Ginny was working out in the garden when she heard what sounded like her family being murdered by some intruder. She rushed into the house, expecting to find guns, knives and copious amounts of blood with some mad serial killer terrorizing her husband and children. What she discovered was even more frightening. Rocky sat in stony silence, refusing to answer her questions about what happened. He angrily pointed to the hallway when she asked where the children were.
Ginny followed his direction, entered her son’s bedroom and found a scene which she would never forget and would take her years to reconcile. Her fourteen year old boy sat on the floor, pounding his fists into a pillow, muttering over and over, “I shouldn’t have let him get to me, I shouldn’t have let him get to me.” Ginny was unable to break through his litany.
She turned to look for her daughters. The middle child was huddled under a desk, her arms tightly wound around her knees as she rocked back and forth in a nearly catatonic state. Her eyes were blank. She seemed unable to comprehend Ginny’s questions.
She found her youngest hiding in the closet. When the child realized it was her mother and not the mad demon she had witnessed strangling her brother, she carefully emerged from the closet and began telling her mother the story.
Ginny listened in horror as the child described the details of what had sounded like murder from outside the house. With each word, Ginny’s heart dropped further and further, till the pit of her stomach felt as though it had been bombarded by land mines. She carefully gathered her children around her, pieced together the story from each of their perspectives and made them a promise. “This will never happen again.” Ginny meant it and knew she was willing to do whatever was necessary to fulfill that promise. She looked into the eyes of her children and saw…absolute DISBELIEF. She was shocked by the depth of mistrust, but hardly surprised; for after all, they’d watched the pattern for many years and had long grown weary of the meaningless promise of change.
At best it was a short lived, hollow reiteration of lies. At its worst, they knew she was capable of abandoning them completely to the monster that lurked inside their father. With an aching heart and a determined mind, she settled them each into their beds, kissed them goodnight and ventured out to the living room. Rocky was not there. She went up to their bedroom to find him sound asleep. She knew much better than to wake him. She eventually fell into a troubled sleep, woke early to find her resolve to deal with the situation in tack. She turned to Rocky who had just returned from the bathroom.
“Rocky, we need to talk about what happened last night.”
Rocky cast a venomous eye her way and muttered, “I’m NOT talking about it”, as he pulled the quilt over his head and went back to sleep.
Ginny was shaking as she quietly got out of bed, went down to the kitchen, made tea and decided that she indeed needed to talk about what had happened. She took the phonebook, turned to the inside cover and made a call to one of the listed helplines. A pleasant sounding woman answered, listened carefully to her story, asked a few questions and then uttered the words Ginny was not quite prepared for, “I need to come and meet you in person and talk to your children.”
Ginny thought about hanging up, but somehow knew that would not end the situation well.
She agreed to having the woman come to the house. Ten minutes later, she looked out the window to see a strange woman with a briefcase, walking up the sidewalk to the front door.
Parked on the street were four police cars driven by several burly officers who were accompanying the woman to the door.
Ginny’s first thought? “Oh my God, what are the neighbours going to think?”
Her second thought? “Perhaps this will get Rocky’s attention and we will finally get the help our family needs to repair and rebuild.”
The first thought was amusing, in retrospect. The second one, pathetically sad beyond reckoning. Somehow she muddled through the drama that was unfolding before her reluctant eyes. The worker took her statement, and her children's version of events. The police officers listened carefully, also asking questions while they made notes. Ginny’s fear deepened as she realized they were taking this very seriously and the smooth sailing she’d hoped would ensue, was not about to happen. Then came that moment, that pivotal nanosecond that lasted what seemed like an eternity as the social worker put forth her conditions. Each word was like a red hot branding iron searing the skin that barely held Ginny together.
There were to be choices. First choice: Ginny and the children could leave the house and Rocky could stay. Second choice: Ginny and the children could stay in the house and Rocky would leave OR Ginny and Rocky could stay in the house together and the social worker would be taking the children with her.
Ginny gulped and timidly asked for the second choice. The police took over from there, made sure the children were all in a room with a closed door while an officer stood guard outside. The worker stayed with Ginny, doing her best to assure her that the police would handle the situation appropriately. To her surprise, fifteen minutes later a sullen Rocky appeared down the stairs in handcuffs, escorted by several armed men.
His story, which she heard in bits and pieces over the next few months later, was to emphasize what a raw deal he had. After all he had to endure a crazy person like Ginny who made mountains out of molehills and turned his life into a nightmare. His capitulation into agreeing to leave came with the realization that he actually might end up in jail. Compliance seemed the lesser of two evils.
He never quite forgave his wife for the scene in his bedroom. He’d been sound asleep when someone shook his foot and told him he had to get up, pack clothes and leave with them.
He was about to tell them to “fuck off and get the hell out of his house” until he saw that each of the men surrounding his bed, had their hands on their guns. He begrudgingly followed their order and left with them for the police station.
From that moment on, life was never the same for the young family. Ginny naively believed that they could patch things together, get counseling and build a healthier, stronger family. This was not part of Rocky’s plans. He seized the opportunity as a means of dumping, what to him, was a most troublesome mate who made his life miserable. He told everyone who would listen that he’d finally had enough. Not only had Ginny ‘let herself go’, gaining over one hundred pounds during the years of their marriage, but she was mentally unstable. He was able to back this up with support from Ginny’s family.
Her mother hissed at her, “ I TOLD you to lose weight or he’d leave.” Her father? He was furious that his daughter had betrayed her marriage and brought shame upon their family.
It took many years and much hard work for resolution, of sorts, to unfold.
Ginny managed to raise her three children, mostly on her own, contending always with Rocky’s manipulative narcissistic behaviour. His pretense of putting the children’s needs first was a farce that fooled many but left Ginny grasping madly for financial security and the means to provide some stability for her children. Somehow they all survived.
The children grew up, had children of their own and, eventually, came to forgive their mother.
With much work, Ginny came to forgive herself. She learned that she was her harshest critic. Even constructive criticism easily pierced the thin shield she attempted to build around a shattered ego. Gradually she worked the steps that would help her build a new life. She came to see that putting herself first and then actively seeking ways to make amends for a lifetime of accepting the unacceptable, was the wisest course of action.
She would look back on the words spoken by the social worker thirty years before and realize that the woman was a gift sent from her Higher Power.
She had listened.